NEW YORK — Swann Galleries’ spring offering of African American Art on April 22 was the second-highest-grossing sale in the 13-year history of the department, with its highest number of participants to date. “I am thrilled to see the continued growth in our African American art auctions with a tremendous sale. Three hundred and ninety eight registered bidders — not counting those on other platforms — competed for eight hours to bid on 220 lots. We set 13 artist records and saw high prices all around for many artists,” noted department director, Nigel Freeman. Internet live bidding was facilitated by LiveAuctioneers.
A strong showing of assemblage artists resonated with collectors, with records being established for a number of artists working in the medium. Records included Howardena Pindell’s Oval Memory Series: (Rhinoceros) Heaven, a mixed-media piece in tempera, gouache, punched paper, nails, glitter and thread from 1980–81, which sold for $100,000. The work was the first from the Oval Memory Series to come to auction, which Pindell created after a serious car accident that left her with acute memory loss; the project was an effort to reconstruct her memories. Betye Saar’s Sojourn, 1995, earned a record for the artist at $87,500—the shadowbox employs the artist’s use of found objects and collage steeped in symbolic meaning. Artists working in assemblage in the 21st century included Vanessa German with You Bring Out the Savage in Me #1, a 2013 mixed-media sculpture that brought $18,750, a record for the artist; and with her market debut, Bisa Butler’s 2007 quilted and appliqued Nandi and Natalie (Friends) earned $75,000.
Auction mainstays included Modernist painters such as Charles Alston, Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis, and Hale Woodruff. Woodruff led the sale with Primordial Landscape, a 1967 oil on canvas example of the artist’s post-war painting in which he describes landscape and natural phenomena within the idiom of Abstract Expressionism. That work sold for $245,000, while Alston’s 1956–60 urban abstraction City at Night reached $185,000. Works by Delaney included Untitled (African Figure), a 1968 oil on canvas which achieved $125,000, and Untitled (Tent Interior), a 1951 color pastel from the Ness Oleson Trust, which sold for $137,000. Coming from Lewis’s final body of work in abstract was Untitled (Abstraction in Red and Blue), a circa-1973 oil on paper that realized $81,250.
Color field artists included Alma W. Thomas with two small-scale watercolors that drew significant interest from collectors: Untitled (Garden Composition), from 1967, earned $81,259, and My Fall Garden, circa 1969, sold for $75,000. Sam Gilliam was represented by Richer Scene, a 1998 acrylic and polypropylene on canvas that realized $185,000, and Toyopet I, an acrylic on canvas from Gilliam’s first period of experimentation in color field painting—completed in 1966 and then revisited in 1997—which sold for $37,000.
Further records included Joseph Delaney with Artist’s Studio Party, a 1940 oil on canvas that sold for $81,250, and Winfred Rembert with Inside Jeff’s Cafe, a circa 1997 dyes on tooled and carved leather work that sold for $50,000. Additional highlights of note included works by Richmond Barthe, Romare Bearden, Ed Clark, and Kerry James Marshall.
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